Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Works of Mercy: Praying For The Living and The Dead

And so we come to the end of this series on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. I have been trying in this series to put our focus, truly, on what the Year of Mercy is all about—it is not about all the pastoral questions that have dominated Catholic social media this week around marriage and divorce and who can or cannot receive communion.

It is not that this is unimportant stuff—of course it is. And I fully intend to weigh in with my own thoughts on the matter… assuming I ever get around to reading the exhortation. I have simply been too busy this week to be able to get to it.

But as interesting and important as all this stuff is… it is not the focus of this Year. Shouldn’t be, anyhow. The focus of the Year of Mercy is meant to be how you and I can make God’s mercy more visible, more tangible, more known in the world. And that is done, not by endlessly chewing over controversies that may or may not have too much to do with us directly in the final analysis, but by being merciful ourselves to everyone.

And so we come to the last spiritual work of mercy, to pray for the living and the dead. This is without question the most mysterious of all the works. To put a bowl of stew in front of a hungry man is obvious. To offer consolation to a suffering soul is not easy, but also not too mysterious. And so it is with all the other works of mercy—they may be difficult or easy, according to our natural gifts and talents and supernatural charisms. But they are not terribly mysterious, really. Teach someone something. Visit someone sick. Help someone out one way or another.

And… say a prayer for them while you’re at it. And here we pass into the realm of mystery. Because of course prayer is simply lifting them up into the care of God and His Mercy. Prayer is asking God to show mercy to His people, and leaving them at the feet of Christ.

It is a profound mystery of faith, intercessory prayer. If there is any action we perform that is more a blind act of faith, I don’t know what it is. God is hidden from us—we do not see Him, hear Him. Not normally, not in the ordinary course of events. And our prayers fly from our lips and our hearts… into this hidden mystery. Into the abyss that is the human ‘experience’ of God in this life.

There is nothing else we do that is more strictly a matter of faith. We do not see our prayers reach the throne of God. We do not see God bend His ear to our prayers. We certainly do not see Him answering our prayers, not in any way that would satisfy any normal demand of evidence. It is all a black, dark mystery locked in the mystery of God’s hidden ways with us.

And yet… we pray. Well, we should pray, anyhow. Prayer, besides being an act of faith, is also an act of humility. It is acknowledging that I really cannot help anyone in the final analysis. Not really, not as they need to be helped. I can do this and that, be it cook them a meal or teach them a course, listen to them and (I hope!) give good counsel.

But that is not what people need. Not really, not entirely. What we need is… well, what do you think? Personally, I don’t really know. But He does. So at the end of the day (and hopefully the beginning and the middle of it, too) we lift them up to God. Lord have mercy. God bless him, God help her. Your will be done in their lives. Your love be triumphant in that one, in this one. Have mercy, Lord, have mercy.

This is the work of mercy, both mysterious beyond the others, but also I believe effective and powerful beyond the others as well. In the end, it is God’s mercy we all need, not my mercy or yours. His mercy (we, well, pray) flows through mine and yours, but it is His that ultimately is the healing of humanity.

So… as we pass through the rest of the days and weeks of this Year of Mercy, let us strive to refer everything finally to the mercy of God, and above all let us pray for one another, for all suffering people, for our enemies should we happen to have any, and for all men and women, living and dead. May God’s mercy win the victory in every human life and bring us all to the eternal feast of mercy awaiting us on the other side of the veil.

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